By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce is one of 10 HCA-owned hospitals currently under investigation by the civil division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami on the medical necessity of interventional cardiology services.
The information was announced by a brief paragraph buried in the middle of the company's quarterly report that was recently released by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The New York Times reported on Aug. 6 that an internal investigation performed by the hospital chain revealed Lawnwood Regional Medical Center was performing heart procedures on patients who did not need them.
"The allegations related to unnecessary procedures being performed in the cath lab are substantiated," stated a confidential memo written by Stephen John, a company ethics officer, The Times reviewed.
The article also referred to C.T. Tomlinson, a registered nurse who worked at Lawnwood and witnessed some of the procedures.
"It bothered me," Mr. Tomlinson was quoted as saying. "I'm a registered nurse, and I care about my patients."
The investigation also revealed Mr. Tomlinson's contract was not renewed because of his complaints.
At this time, it is unknown how many patients might have been affected by this practice. HCA spokeswoman, Nicole Baxter, was unable to be reached for comment.
HCA is the largest for-profit hospital chain in the United States, and was under federal scrutiny approximately a decade ago for alleged Medicare fraud.
In a memo on the company's website, HCA states that physician-driven decisions, such as cardiac catheterizations and percutaneous coronary interventions, "have been and are the subject of much debate within the cardiology community."
It went on to state that the number of cardiac catheterizations and PCIs are "similar to the rest of the nation for these procedures," and that "the number of both cardiac catheterizations and PCIs performed as HCA-affiliated facilities has declined over the last decade."
A graph created by HCA showed HCA hospitals performed 148,488 cardiac cath cases in 2002. By 2011, the number had dropped to 129,048.
"HCA-affiliated physicians and employees strive to provide the highest quality care and minimize adverse outcomes," the memo said.